WEST BRANCH — Researchers at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum-Library in West Branch have discovered what are believed to be the earliest color films of the White House grounds and of President Herbert Hoover, officials announced this week.
Audio Visual Archivist Lynn Smith, who found the color home movies, said the films were long thought to be black and white.
The films actually were shot in Kodacolor, a short-lived film type, she said.
“You’re looking at what appears to the naked eye as a black and white strip of film, but it’s waiting to be rediscovered as color,” she said.
Smith, who has worked at the library and museum for 17 years, said she applied for a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to have the footage restored. The film was returned in December.
Worried she might damage the film, Smith said she used a hand-crank projector to play the film when it arrived. For the first time, she could see the colors of First Lady Lou Hoover’s dress and the hues of the White House Rose Garden.
“It was pretty amazing to see the color,” said Smith, 50. “I’m looking at theses images of Lou in the White House, Mr. Hoover playing Hoover ball and other things in Washington, D.C.”
The seven reels of film — about 30 minutes of footage altogether — are to be shown in the auditorium at the Hoover Presidential Museum-Library, 210 Parkside Drive, on Wednesday, March 29, Lou Hoover’s 143rd birthday.
“It’s her birthday present,” Smith said.
The footage also is to be posted online that morning at YouTube.com/user/HooverPresLib.
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The movies show the usually dour-looking president frolicking on the White House grounds with others, tossing a medicine ball around for exercise.
There are shots of White House gardens; clips of Alonzo Fields, who was chief butler at the White House for 20 years; and scenes of family dogs playing on the grounds.
There are scenes of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, with period cars cruising by.
Hoover is also captured on a deep-sea fishing trip, where he lands a barracuda. The president’s fishing garb consists of a coat and tie and gray fedora.
“Hoover was caught once without a tie, fishing, and he was upset because he thought the dignity of the office required ... some formality, even when fishing,” Thomas F. Schwartz, director of the library-museum, said in a telephone interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday. “If the public even has any impression of Hoover, it’s a dark one, because of the Depression.”
Hoover, a Republican who was in office from 1929 to 1933, is widely seen as standing by as the nation slid into the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“They see him in black and white, and he looks like a grumpy old man,” Schwartz said. “Who would ever imagine this guy running around the White House lawn throwing a six-pound medicine ball?”
“What do these movies do?” he said. “They make him a flesh-and-blood individual. And the fact that they’re in color.”
The films are believed to have been shot in the late 1920s and early 1930s on the Kodacolor type film, Schwartz said in an essay about the discovery.
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“Kodacolor was eventually replaced with the more popular Kodachrome film in 1935,” he wrote. “Given the expense of the film and its short existence, color home movies from this period are rare.”
“Rarer still are color movies showing the White House and other Washington, D.C., attractions making these perhaps the earliest color images of the White House grounds,” he wrote.
“For now, we think we’ve got the earliest,” Schwartz said. “If someone can prove us wrong, that’s fine. We’re happy with the discovery.”
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If You Go
What: Lou Hoover’s 143rd birthday celebration
Featuring: Screening of newly discovered color film shot during the Hoover Administration during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
When: Wednesday, March 29
Where: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, 210 Parkside Drive, West Branch
Hours: Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Cost: Museum admission is $10 for those ages 16-61; $5 for those age 62 and older, active and retired military and college students; $3 for those ages 6-15; and free for those age 5 and younger and members.
Info: (319) 643-5301 or hooverarchives.gov